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North Carolina Courage

Courage honor World Cup winner, two-time NWSL champion Sam Mewis

Sam Mewis claps while she is being honored ahead of the North Carolina Courage match.
Photo Copyright Rob Kinnan for USA TODAY Sports

CARY, N.C. — The North Carolina Courage kicked off their eighth year in the NWSL with a rousing home victory to start the campaign, but also honored their past in the process.

Midfielder Sam Mewis, who announced her retirement as a player this winter after being sidelined for two years with a chronic knee injury, became the first player inducted into the Courage Ring of Honor, with a postgame ceremony on the field after the Courage defeated the Houston Dash 5-1 at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.

It was fitting that the five goals scored in the home team’s favor matched Mewis’ No. 5, and a club home opener record crowd of 5,878 was on hand to honor one of the best and most beloved players of her generation. While playing in North Carolina between 2017-21, Mewis won two NWSL Championships and three NWSL Shields, was an NWSL Best XI selection in 2017, won the 2019 World Cup with the U.S. women’s national team and was awarded the 2020 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.

“When Sam had to announce her retirement, it was an immediate response by us to be able to make sure that we brought her home,” Courage head coach Sean Nahas told the crowd during the postgame ceremony. “An absolute leader. A winner. Humble. A competitor, someone that represented this crest with the utmost respect. And that’s what we want to make sure we re-establish here in the club to make sure that’s something that we carry on moving forward.”

The 2019 World Cup winner admitted she was still coming to terms with the end of her playing career, aged just 31.

“I think that I have really struggled with what’s going to be a lifelong knee injury,” Mewis told reporters during a press conference on Friday. “And I feel more educated now in knowing maybe years ago that I could have talked about it or I could have expressed that I need more support. How do you balance this idea of you’re in peak physical condition, here and now, but injuries can be a permanent part of your life? And I don’t know that I ever thought that until I started realizing the situation that my knee was in.”

She said she now swims as her primary physical activity, and more than once during the weekend admitted she “would do anything to play one more game.”

“Overall I feel really fortunate that the level of physical activity that I can do is good. In a lot of ways I am grateful  — as I’m gritting through my teeth to say that I’m grateful because I know I should be but it is really hard. Like if I could just play I would. My knee is just not in the shape to be playing professional soccer,” she explained.

During her two-year attempt to rehab from the knee injury and get back on the field, Mewis said she followed pursuits she hadn’t been able to try before, taking a pottery class and drum lessons. She also began a media career, initially starting a podcast with good friend and fellow former Courage player Lynn Williams. That venture became so successful that Mewis has parlayed it into a post-playing career job as a women’s soccer content producer with Men in Blazers.

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That Mewis is a natural at soccer media comes as no surprise, as the reason she is so beloved is not because of her on-field impact but because of the open, kind and funny person she is off the field.

Courage defender Ryan Williams said when she was drafted in 2018, Mewis sent her an email of congratulations, a gesture that left a lasting impression on Williams and her family.

Fellow defender Kaleigh Kurtz lauded Mewis as someone “No matter what, at the airport, she would go grab a bag and that was something that stood out to me from the get-go, was like she wasn’t bigger than anything that everyone else needed to do.”

The postgame ceremony, like the entire weekend, was filled with tears and laughter around Mewis. And for a club that has undergone considerable turmoil and rebuilt over the past three years, the Courage needed to look back on a legendary career perhaps just as much as Mewis deserved to be honored in front of a North Carolina crowd.

“I’m so grateful to be here and to have been reminded of what the Courage taught me,” Mewis said to the crowd through tears, before exclaiming, “Oh my god, I’m like sobbing!” to rousing cheers from those watching.

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